Dog Days of Winter: Skijoring at the Barkie Birkie

The American Birkebeiner is the premier cross-country skiing event in the United States–but you probably already knew that. Every February for the past 39 years, elite skiers from around the world descend on Hayward and Cable, Wisconsin, and face one of the most challenging courses on the World Loppet tour. Over the years, the race has attracted the best of the best in competitive cross-country skiing.

It was a great race this year, especially the womens 50K skate race, which came down to an all-out sprint up Mainstreet with less than a half-second seperating first and second places; but you can read about that lots of places. This time, I’d rather write about other Birkie things.

Will Bomier of Mahtowa, MN, and an enthusiastic Skyler compete in the Barkie Birkie skijoring race held in Hayward, Wisconsin on February 24, 2012.

The Birkie isn’t a one-day event after all. Prior to the main races, the Birkebeiner and the Kortelopet, held each February, dozens of other Birkebeiner-related events are going on in the great north woods.

Andrea Williams of Minneapolis, MN and her dog, Elodi, compete in the Barkie Birkie skijoring race held in Hayward, Wisconsin on February 24, 2012.

Hayward, and Cable too, are awash with athletes of all abilities, and families and sightseers and dedicated fans of cross-country skiing. All told, some 9300 skiers participated in the events.  There are, of course, activities for kids, families, and casual observers–and even the media.

Looking for inspiration? Tom Hernon of Grand Rapids, and Thor compete in the Barkie Birkie skijoring race held in Hayward, Wisconsin on February 24, 2012.

The Birkie is as much a week-long Northwoods festival and showcase as it is an elite sporting event.

This year, I was on hand to witness what may be the most entertaining event of Birkie week–The Barkie Birkie.

Robert Cartford came all the way from Quantico, VA with his dog, Misty, to compete in the Barkie Birkie skijoring race held in Hayward, Wisconsin on February 24, 2012.

Held the Friday before the Birkebeiner, the Barkie Birkie is a skijoring race through the streets surrounding downtown Hayward.

For the uninitiated, skijoring involves cross-country skiing with the assistance of something other than your own muscles power. Basically you harness yourself to something theoretically faster than you are and ski.

Janice Hansen of Middleton, WI celebrates crossing the finish line with her dog, Brae, at the Barkie Birkie.

That assistance can come from internal combustion engines, in the form of motorcycles, snowmobiles, or even autos, but usually the competitors choose four-legged help–horses sometimes, but mostly dogs.

The Barkie Birkie, as the name suggests, is reserved for dog-powered skiers.

Since almost all dogs, regardless of breed, will pull when given the chance, they make natural skijoring teammates. Of course, some breeds are specially bred to pull–think sled dogs like huskies and malamutes–but as the competition down Mainstreet in Hayward proves, anything with four legs will do.

Linda Cook of Springbrook, WI, and her standard poodle, Blu, prove that all comers are welcome at the Barkie Birkie in Hayward, Wisconsin.

You could call the Barkie Birkie an athletic competition, as some of the competitors really are trying hard to win the race. But mostly it’s just people, skiers and fans alike, having a great time with snow and dogs and skis. As a spectacle, I’d say it’s the most fun you can have on six legs.

Fans cheer for the teams on Mainstreet during the Barkie Birkie skijoring race held in Hayward, Wisconsin on February 24, 2012.

More information about the American Birkebeiner and the Worldloppet circuit can be found at Birkie.com and Worldloppet.com

Also, a complete gallery of Barkie Birkie images can be seen by clicking on any of the above photos.

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